Responding to the new publishing landscape

Publishers face many challenges in a rapidly evolving marketplace, but Ricoh’s new Pro VC 60000 means that long lead times on new publications need not be one of them

Ricoh VC60000 Colour Inkjet in action at Hansaprint, Finland

Ricoh VC60000 Colour Inkjet in action at Hansaprint, Finland

How things have changed. Only a few years ago people were predicting the death of the book as, e-books achieved exponential sales growth.

But two significant developments have demonstrated that the print book market remains alive and well.

Several weeks ago British high street bookseller Waterstones decided to stop selling Kindles due to “virtually no sales”, perhaps marking a watershed in the evolution of e-books. More recently, Amazon announced that it was opening a physical book store in Seattle.

So what is going on in the market—and what next for books?

Have e-books now reached their plateau?

Since the introduction of Amazon’s Kindle device, e-books have seen meteoric growth. They now account for nearly 25% of book sales in the US, and nearly 15% in the UK. However, many people that we talk to within the publishing industry believe that e-book sales have reached a plateau, especially in the US and UK. Indeed, the latest data from Nielsen shows that physical books sales actually increased, by 2% year on year.

This coincided with a decrease in e-book sales for the first time ever in the US.

But this does not necessarily mean that people have fallen out of love with e-books—rather, it indicates a wider pattern.

First, the e-book market is maturing.

The “land-grab” days are over, when e-book makers, content providers and publishers cut prices to drive market share. There has been consolidation among e-book providers.

Recent e-book price rises implemented by Amazon have made e-books less attractive as an alternative to print. “Large book publishers—including Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster—recently won, after a hard-fought battle, the ability to set their own prices for e-books. But now, as prices for many e-books have risen, the industry is seeing a slump in sales,” reports Nova Safo, a broadcast journalist for Marketplace.

Last but not least, printed books have proven to have an enduring appeal. Whereas there has been a wholesale shift from print to electronic in some segments—especially academic journals and novels—in other segments, demand for print remains strong, with year-on-year growth in Adult Non-Fiction (+5%), Adult Fiction (+3%), Juvenile Non-Fiction (+11%, all data from Nielsen). Perhaps this should not be such a great surprise. Electronic delivery has revolutionised the journals market and expanded the reach of scientific and medical publishing. However, there is strong demand for printed children’s books.

The new world of publishing

So the bigger picture has been that, while demand for individual books has been declining, the dynamics of the market have been changing. There has been an explosion in the number of new titles published. In fact, according to European Book Publishing statistics, in the EMEA markets, more than 500,000 new titles are now published every year.

At the same time, Amazon has set the bar high for customer service. Increasingly consumers are expecting fast delivery—of around 24 hours for a paperback, or 48 hours for hardback.

This creates a whole new business model. Publishers increasingly need to plan their business around high availability of a very large range of titles, and low stock levels to reduce their risk. Nowadays, a major publisher will typically have 80,000 plus titles available via Print on Demand.

In a way this is the same as delivering e-books: consumers can access a large catalogue and can order what they want, when they want it.

Virtual stock means print to order

This is exactly what major academic and scientific publisher Elsevier has been doing with its journals, which are literally printed to order in very small quantities using a highly efficient supply chain.

Key to this are the latest developments in digital print technology. The first wave of colour inkjet devices used by book manufacturers has helped to change the market by providing a compelling business case for short runs, produced quickly. This has already revolutionised the academic book market and some areas of mono trade books.

Now, with the launch of new colour inkjet devices such as the Ricoh Pro VC 60000, it is now feasible to print colour trade books in the same way. At our recent publishers event, held in Boulder, Colorado, we demonstrated that the Pro VC can now deliver a quality that can actually be better than offset. This opens up many new opportunities for publishers to take advantage of the compelling business case for short-run (and long-run) colour inkjet printing for books and journals that were either printed offset—or indeed, not even printed at all.

The ‘infinite print run’

These are exciting times for publishing and book manufacturing. The whole business model is changing.

For publishers this not only reduces their risk, but also opens up significant opportunities to extract more value from their content. Now it is viable to produce even high-quality, colour trade books in very small quantities—and in short lead times too. This potentially means that books can be launched to the market quicker and be kept in print indefinitely.

To find out more about Ricoh’s solutions for publishing, visit www.ricoh-europe.com/publishing

This article originally appeared in the FutureBook 2015 Conference Programme. 

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